Laws on online political ads remain in breach of EU rules

Fresh documents show that the Electoral Reform Bill, intended to prevent foreign interference with Irish elections, is still not in compliance with EU laws.
Laws on online political ads remain in breach of EU rules

'It is deeply disappointing that the Government refused to provide a copy of the commission's October correspondence,' said Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Bróin, who sought documents under under the Freedom of Information Act. Picture: Leah Farrell/

New laws governing online political advertising in Ireland remain in breach of EU rules, even after the Government attempts to fix the legislation, the Irish Examiner can reveal.

Documents released by Local Government Minister Darragh O’Brien’s department to Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Bróin show that the EU Commission slapped the Government’s wrists on numerous fronts, saying its proposed Electoral Reform Bill was in breach of EU competition laws.

The bill was intended to prevent foreign forces from interfering with Irish elections.

The Irish Examiner revealed in August how the bill, rushed through the Dáil without debate, was in breach of EU laws.

These fresh documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the bill is still not in compliance.

In response, the Department of Local Government has said it is “examining all comments received from the European Commission” and is “continuing to engage further with the commission with a view to resolving all outstanding issues” prior to the commencement of Parts 4 and 5 of the Electoral Reform Act 2022.

Local Government Minister Darragh O'Brien.
Local Government Minister Darragh O'Brien.

However, the Government refused to release the most recent correspondence from the EU, sent in October, which is said to contain further instances of breaches of the legislation.

Ireland remains under threat of being sued by the EU should it not take all steps to ensure its domestic law is compatible with European law.

Should the Irish Government not comply or should the draft text be adopted without account being taken of the above objections, the commission may commence proceedings,” the EU Commission has stated.

According to the documents, the commission delivered a detailed opinion which said that certain aspects of the notified draft were incompatible with articles 14(1) and 15(1) of the EU’s directive “on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the internal market”, otherwise known as the E-Commerce Directive.

The commission said it “acknowledges and shares” the Irish Government’s objectives to provide transparency in political advertising online, which it said is necessary to support “open political discourse in democratic processes and protect the integrity of the electoral process”.

However, it said it has been working on creating a harmonised regulatory framework regarding the transparency and targeting of political advertising in the EU.

Mr Ó Broin told the Irish Examiner: “It is clear from the correspondence that the European Commission continues to have issues with the Government plans to regulate online activity during elections.

It is deeply disappointing that the Government refused to provide a copy of the commission's October correspondence.” 

“It is my intention to appeal this all the way to the Information Commissioner if possible. Sinn Féin wants to see the strongest possible regulation of all aspects of our electoral processes. 

"Rushing legislation, evading full scrutiny, and now concealing important correspondence from the European Commission does not instil confidence that the Government are getting this right.” 

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